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2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier Preview: Eastern Conference

Hockey’s back. In August!?! In this economy?!?

Yes, truer words have never been spoken. Hockey. Is. Back.

But not in the way you’re probably thinking if you’ve been under a rock for the last– let’s see, what month is it now?

The National Hockey League paused the 2019-20 regular season on March 12th due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic before canceling the rest of the regular season in late May and announcing a 24-team playoff format for 2020.

Make no mistake, whether you put an asterisk next to the winners of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final or not– it’ll be the hardest Cup to win since Lord Stanley of Preston announced he’d donate the silver rose bowl to the best hockey team in the world (so Canada) on March 18, 1892.

Despite all the training world class athletes do in contemporary times, nothing could prepare any athlete to stop playing, go through training camp after months of (in some cases) not being able to skate on any ice, then go full throttle for a championship tournament.

If anything, the asterisk next to the 2020 Stanley Cup champions will simply be a marker for the challenging times and remarkable feats of athleticism that team went through to put it all together and lift a 35-pound trophy at the end.

By now you’ve probably heard how the 2020 postseason will work– 24 teams vying for 16 spots, with eight teams (four in each conference) already locked into the playoffs, but fighting for the top-four seeds as the other 16 teams compete in a best-of-five series to punch a ticket into the playoffs.

Those 16 teams are in the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, which technically isn’t part of the 2020 postseason according to the NHL, but the individual player and team stats will count towards the playoffs in the record books.

So for Arizona Coyotes fans, the long standing playoff drought since 2012, technically isn’t over yet. They’d have to beat the Nashville Predators first.

With all of that in mind, let’s take a look at the Eastern Conference Qualifiers, while the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers sort themselves out.

All Eastern Conference games will be at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario until the Eastern Conference Final and Stanley Cup Final (both of which will be held in Edmonton, Alberta at Rogers Place).

(5) Pittsburgh Penguins (40-23-6, 86 points) vs (12) Montreal Canadiens (31-31-9, 71 points)

Pittsburgh: 69 games played, .623 points percentage, 29 regulation wins.

Montreal: 71 games played, .500 points percentage, 19 regulation wins.

The Pittsburgh Penguins were 5th in the Eastern Conference at the time of the pause and being led by Evgeni Malkin with 74 points in 55 games played, while Bryan Rust (56 points in 55 games) and Sidney Crosby 47 points in 41 games) trailed the Russian star on the roster. 

Yes, Malkin missed 14 games and still amassed 74 points in a season for the Penguins, while Pens head coach, Mike Sullivan, carefully charted the course through a bevy of injuries to bring his team within striking range of the Metropolitan Division lead had the regular season seen its full conclusion.

The Washington Capitals topped the Metropolitan Division with 90 points. The Philadelphia Flyers had 89. Pittsburgh had 86.

An annual Stanley Cup contender since Sullivan led the Penguins to back-to-back Cups in 2016 and 2017 (their second and third since 2009– fourth and fifth in franchise history), Pittsburgh’s goaltending might be the only thing that holds them back from their 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier matchup with the Montreal Canadiens.

Matt Murray had a down year with a 2.87 goals against average and an .899 save percentage in 38 games played– his worst goals against average since he had a 2.92 GAA in 49 games in 2017-18 and his worst-career save percentage in a season. Murray finished the shortened season with a 20-11-5 record and one shutout in 38 starts.

Backup netminder, Tristan Jarry, went 20-12-1 in 33 games played (31 starts) and had a 2.43 GAA, as well as a .921 SV% and three shutouts.

Murray’s leash through the exhibition games should be a short one, despite his career 2.16 GAA and .921 SV% in 48 Stanley Cup Playoff games. His goals against average reached a career-low 1.70 in 11 games en route to Pittsburgh’s Cup win in 2017, but rose to a 2.43 in 2018 (12 games) and a 3.02 in 2019 (four games) as the Penguins were swept by the New York Islanders in last year’s First Round.

It’s not that he can’t bounce back, but rather that Sullivan should ride the hotter goaltender and force a little healthy competition if it yields the best in Murray’s game. If not, it’ll either be sink or swim with Jarry in the crease.

At the other end of the rink, the Montreal Canadiens went .500 this season and were mired in 12th place in the Eastern Conference at the stoppage with what looked like little hope for a late season surge into the postseason, despite leading scorer, Tomas Tatar (22-39–61 totals in 68 games played) and starting goaltender, Carey Price’s best efforts.

Phillip Danault had the second-most points on the Habs roster this season with 13 goals and 34 assists (47 points) in 71 games played, while Max Domi was third in scoring on the team with 44 points in 71 games.

Price led Montreal in net with a 27-25-6 record in 58 games played (58 starts), a 2.79 GAA, a .909 SV% and four shutouts this season. Since his 2.23 GAA and .923 SV% in 62 games in 2016-17, Price has not had a goals against average below 2.30 or a save percentage better than .920. He had a 3.11 GAA and a .900 SV% in 49 games in 2017-18, as well as a 2.49 GAA and a .918 SV% in 66 games last season.

As he approaches his mid-30s and the league shifts more and more towards tandem goaltending, Price shouldn’t be playing more than 50 games in a regular season, but the Canadiens struggled with finding a backup this season.

Charlie Lindgren went 2-4-0 in six games (six starts) and had a 3.33 GAA, as well as an .888 SV%. Meanwhile, Cayden Primeau went 1-1-0 in two games (both starts) and had a 2.52 GAA and a .931 SV%.

Keith Kinkaid also made an appearance with six games played (five starts), a 1-1-3 record, a 4.24 GAA and an .875 SV%.

Claude Julien has over 400 regular season wins as the head coach of the Boston Bruins and won the Cup with the B’s in 2011, but that was nine years ago and he’s three full seasons into his second stint behind the bench as head coach of the Canadiens.

His teams aren’t known for keeling over and being swept out of the playoffs, so they’ll likely be able to win one as Montreal scratches and claws their way to victory in classic Julien-style blue-collar work ethic fashion, but can he get it done against Pittsburgh in today’s NHL?

Especially when falling behind the eight ball is even more significant in a best-of-five series than it is in a best-of-seven.

Price might be fresh, but Pittsburgh’s got an offense and a defense. Plus the Penguins did win two out of their three regular season matchups and Crosby and Malkin are ready to make yet another postseason appearance– regardless of how far things will actually go.

It’s not out of the question that the Habs will be able to steal a game, but the Penguins should have this series wrapped up in four games and punch their ticket to the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Regular season outcomes:

4-1 MTL at PPG Paints Arena on Dec. 10th, 3-2 F/OT PIT at Bell Centre on Jan. 4th, 4-1 PIT at PPG Paints Arena on Feb. 14th

Schedule:

8/1- Game 1 MTL @ PIT in Toronto 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS

8/3- Game 2 MTL @ PIT in Toronto 8 PM ET NBCSN, SN, TVAS

8/5- Game 3 PIT @ MTL in Toronto 8 PM ET NBCSN, SN, TVAS

8/7- Game 4 PIT @ MTL in Toronto*

8/8- Game 5 MTL @ PIT in Toronto*

*If necessary

(6) Carolina Hurricanes (38-25-5, 81 points) vs (11) New York Rangers (37-28-5, 79 points)

Carolina: 68 games played, .596 points percentage, 27 regulation wins

N.Y. Rangers: 70 games played, .564 points percentage, 31 regulation wins

Rod Brind’Amour and the Carolina Hurricanes have their work cut out for them in what just might be the only series that would be an upset if the higher seed wins. The Hurricanes lost all four regular season matchups against the Rangers, despite Sebastian Aho’s team-leading 66 points in 68 games on the season.

Aho set a new career-high in goals (38) and had a pair of goals against New York this season, but fell shy of establishing a new career-high in points after putting up 83 points in 82 games last season. Of course, a pandemic shortened regular season will have something to do with that.

Regardless, he was on pace for about 80 points at the time the NHL season was paused.

Teuvo Teravainen continued to show that he’s one of the most consistent performers in the league with a respectable 48 assists and 63 points in 68 games played as one of Carolina’s more “veteran” players, despite only being 25-years-old.

Meanwhile, Andrei Svechnikov scored two lacrosse goals this season and managed to improve on all fronts from his rookie season (20-17–37 totals in 82 games last season) with 24 goals and 37 assists (61 points) in 68 games in 2019-20. He was on pace for almost 30 goals and around 73 points in his sophomore season had the pandemic not called it short.

In goal, David Ayres led the way with– just kidding– Petr Mrazek went 21-16-2 in 40 games this season (38 starts) and had a 2.69 GAA, as well as a .905 SV% and three shutouts. Not great, but not the worst entering the Qualifiers.

He’ll have to do much better than his 2.73 GAA and .894 SV% in 11 games in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs if he has any hopes of catapulting his team over the Rangers and backstopping them to a deep playoff run like last year.

That said, Curtis McElhinney was the one that replaced him against the Boston Bruins in the 2019 Eastern Conference Final after Mrazek allowed ten goals against in the series, compared to McElhinney’s five.

The good news for the Hurricanes, however, is that McElhinney’s numbers have been way off the mark this season and he’s the current backup for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Plus James Reimer exists in Carolina.

Reimer went 14-6-2 in 25 games for the Canes this season and had a 2.66 GAA, as well as a .914 SV% and three shutouts– so basically he’s the same as Mrazek, only Reimer’s looking for a bigger redemption arc in the postseason than being remembered as the Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender in Boston’s epic, 5-4, overtime comeback in the 2013 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal.

That wasn’t even Reimer’s last appearance in the playoffs, however, as he had a brief stint (29 minutes) with the San Jose Sharks en route to their 2016 Stanley Cup Final appearance.

Brind’Amour might be wise to use his best defensive game and start Reimer in Game 1 against the Rangers, except Mrazek had an .861 SV% against New York in three games this season, while Reimer had a .792 SV%.

Advantage… …Mrazek? But on a short leash?

On the other hand, the New York Rangers enter their Qualifier matchup with the Hurricanes two points behind Carolina in the season standings and three spots behind them in the Metropolitan Division standings that are virtually obsolete this postseason.

The Hurricanes had 81 points. The Rangers had 79 points. First place through seventh place in the division was separated by 11 points at the time of the stoppage.

And at that point, 2019-20 Hart Memorial Trophy finalist, Artemi Panarin, had already amassed 32-63–95 totals in 69 games for New York.

He had nine points (three goals, six assists) against the Hurricanes this season, while Mika Zibanejad sat 20 points behind Panarin in team scoring with 41 goals and 34 assists (75 points) in 57 games– including four goals and three assists against Carolina this season.

Ryan Strome carried third place honors for the Rangers in scoring this season with 18-41–59 totals in 70 games.

Rangers head coach, David Quinn, also doesn’t have an easy decision to make with his goaltenders heading to Toronto for their series against Carolina.

Henrik Lundqvist made three starts against the Canes and went 3-0-0, while stopping 125 shots out of 132 shots against (.947 SV%) in that span.

Igor Shesterkin made 27 saves on 29 shots against (.931 SV%) in his one start and one win against Carolina this season.

Lundqvist went 10-12-3 on the season in 30 games played (26 starts) with a 3.16 GAA, a .905 SV% and one shutout.

Shesterkin went 10-2-0 in 12 games played (12 starts) and had a 2.52 GAA, as well as a .932 SV%.

Oh yeah, and Alexandar Georgiev went 17-14-2 in 34 games (32 starts) while putting up a 3.04 GAA, a .910 SV% and two shutouts.

One thing is clearer now more than ever before– “King Henrik” is no longer king in “The Big Apple”.

Shesterkin should receive the nod for the playoffs, but this is just the Qualifier. It technically doesn’t count unless you win three out of the next possible five games.

In that case, Quinn could rely on Lundqvist to get the job done, then give Shesterkin his first real taste of the NHL’s toughest job– being a goaltender in the playoffs– since Lundqvist has a history for seemingly always having Carolina’s number when it matters most for the Hurricanes.

Regardless of who’s in net, New York holds all the advantages coming into this series.

The Rangers scored 17 goals for against Hurricanes and allowed nine goals against over their four games against one another.

Carolina threw the kitchen sink at New York on net– totaling 161 shots on goal in their four regular season matchups with the Blue Shirts– but Lundqvist was the key difference maker.

That said, the Hurricanes knocked off the then defending Cup champion Washington Capitals in seven games in last year’s First Round.

But can Brind’Amour motivate his players enough to get the job done more efficiently when the series is only a best-of-five instead of having the luxury to drag things out all seven games like they did against the Caps?

And with back-to-back games incorporated in the schedule, conditions are clearly unfavorable for the Hurricanes in their David and Goliath matchup (again, despite being the higher seed).

One thing that works in their favor? There’s no travel outside the bubble to and from the games, so that’s a plus.

Knowing how The Hockey Gods work, it’d be foolish not to believe this series won’t go all five games just because. Either that or Carolina will pull off the three-game sweep of the Rangers after losing every single regular season game against New York in 2019-20.

Flip a coin and that’s your winner– this series might just be a lot closer and more intense than you think.

Rangers in five, but don’t be surprised if/when Carolina defeats them.

Sit back and enjoy.

Regular season outcomes:

4-2 NYR at PNC Arena on Nov. 7th, 3-2 NYR at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 27th, 5-3 NYR at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 27th, 5-2 NYR at PNC Arena on Feb. 21st

Schedule:

8/1- Game 1 NYR @ CAR in Toronto 12 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, SN360, TVAS

8/3- Game 2 NYR @ CAR in Toronto 12 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, SN360, TVAS

8/4- Game 3 CAR @ NYR in Toronto 8 PM ET on NBCSN, SN360, TVAS

8/6- Game 4 CAR @ NYR in Toronto*

8/8- Game 5 NYR @ CAR in Toronto*

*If necessary

(7) New York Islanders (35-23-10, 80 points) vs (10) Florida Panthers (35-26-8, 78 points)

N.Y. Islanders: 68 games played, .588 points percentage, 24 regulation wins

Florida: 69 games played, .565 points percentage, 30 regulation wins

Barry Trotz is still coaching the trap in today’s NHL, which, honestly, you have to hand it to him. His defense first mindset has turned the New York Islanders into a playoff contender since his arrival last season.

The only bad thing that’s come with Trotz’s arrival and John Tavares’ departure– a lack of goal scoring.

It’s no secret that to win games, your team must score more goals than the other team, whether it’s a, 10-9, high-scoring victory or a, 1-0, shutout.

Unfortunately for Trotz, the Isles ranked ninth in fewest goals for this season with 192, which is the worst among all the Qualifier team. Yes, even Montreal and Chicago each had 212 goals for this season, despite their minus-6 and minus-9 goal differentials, respectively.

At least the Islanders only allowed one more goal than they scored in the pandemic shortened regular season.

Anyway, Mathew Barzal led the charge for New York this season with 19-41–60 totals in 68 games played, while Brock Nelson (54 points in 68 games) and Anders Lee (43 points in 68 games) followed suit.

Barzal was on pace for 23 goals and 72 points this season, which would’ve been a career-high in goals in a season for the young forward only having just completed his third full season. Nevertheless, scoring at least 60 points in three consecutive seasons is respectable.

Nelson scored 26 goals this season, which marked back to back seasons of at least 20 goals for the 28-year-old. He was on pace for 31 goals in what was already a career-season in the making.

Lee was on pace for 52 points after putting up 20-23–43 totals in 68 games, which would have given him four consecutive seasons of 50-plus points.

But it’s not all about what would’ve been for the Islanders, because the future is here in goaltender Ilya Sorokin– oh wait, he can’t play in the 2020 postseason due to the NHL’s Return to Play rulings, which is fine– just means that next year’s looking good for the Isles.

In net, Semyon Varlamov amassed a 19-14-6 record in 45 games played (39 starts) with a 2.62 GAA and a .914 SV%, as well as two shutouts to go with it.

Ideally, you’d like a starting goaltender in the NHL to be closer to 2.50, maybe even 2.30 in goals against average and around a .920 in save percentage, but we addressed some of New York’s shortcomings this season– a lack of offense and injuries on defense with Adam Pelech limited to 38 games.

Thomas Greiss had a 16-9-4 record in 31 games (29 starts) with a 2.74 GAA and a .913 SV% in the process.

It’s likely his last season on Long Island/in Brooklyn with Sorokin signed for the next couple of seasons, so if he sees any ice time in the series, he’ll have to be better in order to prove his next payday at the expense of another team via free agency in November.

New York brought in Jean-Gabriel Pageau at the trade deadline from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for a conditional 2020 1st round pick (can become a 2021 1st round pick if the Islanders lose in the Qualifier and win the 1st overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft–a.k.a. top-3 lottery protected), a 2020 2nd round pick and a conditional 2022 3rd round pick (if New York wins the Cup in 2020), then signed Pageau to a six-year extension worth $5.000 million per season.

Though it was all too short to effectively judge Pageau in an Islanders sweater, it’s worth noting he scored two goals in seven games so far. That’s it.

A boost for the third line, sure, but his effectiveness in a new surrounding remains to be seen, which could be a key to New York defeating the Florida Panthers who lack an important figure in Vincent Trocheck since trading him to the Carolina Hurricanes for Erik Haula, Lucas Wallmark, Chase Priskie and Eetu Luostarinen at the deadline on Feb. 24th.

Speaking of the Panthers, Florida was led by Jonathan Huberdeau in scoring this season with 23 goals and 55 assists (78 points) in 69 games this season.

Aleksander Barkov had his fifth consecutive 20-goal season– one season removed from his career-high 35 goals (and 96 points!) last season– and was on pace for 25 tallies this season at the stoppage.

And bringing up the rear in Florida’s top-three scorers this season was Mike Hoffman with 29 goals and 30 assists (59 points) in 69 games. Hoffman finished one goal shy of back to back 30-goal seasons and was on pace to match his career-high 70 points in a season had the regular season been uninterrupted.

In goal, Sergei Bobrovsky probably wishes he could ask for a mulligan this season after going 23-19-6 in 50 games played (49 starts) and amassing a 3.23 GAA, as well as a .900 SV% and one shutout.

Yes, you read that right– one shutout this season. After leading the league with nine shutouts last season, Bobrovsky was far beyond a disappointment in his first year of a seven-year, $70 million contract.

Meanwhile, Sam Montembeault (5-5-1) started the season as Florida’s backup, but things took a turn after his 3.34 GAA and .890 SV% in 14 games played (nine starts) were no better than Bobrovsky’s career-worst season as a starter.

Alas, Chris Driedger was called up from the Springfield Thunderbirds (AHL) and put up a 7-2-1 record in 12 games played with a 2.05 GAA, a .938 SV% and one shutout in that span.

The Islanders beat the Panthers in all three regular season matchups this season, but New York has yet to face Driedger.

A word to the wise for Florida’s head coach, Joel Quenneville– what more could you lose by starting Driedger in Game 1?

Bobrovsky hasn’t had the form all season and isn’t going into the playoffs as your surefire starter– $10.000 million cap hit or not. Pray he returns to his two-time Vezina Trophy winning ability in time for 2020-21, but for now he hasn’t earned starter duties and your main focus is on winning three games, let alone going for the Cup with whatever you have for a roster.

The Islanders scored eight goals in their three games against the Panthers this season. They allowed four goals against, while Florida– to their credit– forced New York to a shootout in their first meeting back on Oct. 12th.

New York had 94 total shots on goal against Florida this season.

The Panthers had 108 shots against the Islanders.

It should be a close battle with each team ravaged in some manner– whether by injuries that plagued them all season or lackluster goaltending, neither club is exactly turning heads out there.

The Panthers lost in six games to the Islanders in the 2016 First Round, but this time around it’s a best of five.

New York should win in four games as Trotz has more recent playoff success and the more recent playoff experienced roster to go off of than, yes, Quenneville’s three Stanley Cup Rings from the last ten years.

It’s not that Quenneville can’t pull off the upset, but rather that the Panthers aren’t ready to make a dent in the postseason picture without all the necessary pieces.

The good news for them, at least, is they have a tried and true coach to guide them through what for now will be some growing pains.

Unless 20-goal scorer Noel Acciari pockets a hat trick in three straight games, which sounds quite plausible these days, so who knows!?

Regular season outcomes:

3-2 F/SO NYI at NYCB Live/Nassau Coliseum on Oct. 12th, 2-1 NYI at Barclays Center on Nov. 9th, 3-1 NYI at BB&T Center on Dec. 12th

Schedule:

8/1- Game 1 FLA @ NYI in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN1, TVAS

8/4- Game 2 FLA @ NYI in Toronto 12 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

8/5- Game 3 NYI @ FLA in Toronto 12 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

8/7- Game 4 NYI @ FLA in Toronto*

8/9- Game 5 FLA @ NYI in Toronto*

*If necessary

(8) Toronto Maple Leafs (36-25-9, 81 points) vs (9) Columbus Blue Jackets (33-22-15, 81 points)

Toronto: 70 games played, .579 points percentage, 28 regulation wins

Columbus: 70 games played, .579 points percentage, 25 regulation wins

The Toronto Maple Leafs have home ice advantage and– well, technically, the Qualifier isn’t considered part of the playoffs and there’s a pandemic going on, so no fans are allowed inside the bubble.

But hey, at least there’s hockey in Canadian New York City, so we’ll take it!

The Leafs were led by Auston Matthews in scoring this season as the 22-year-old center finished third in the NHL in goals with 47 of them in 70 games played. He had 80 points overall, which established career-highs in both goals and points in his fourth NHL season– and fourth consecutive season with at least 30 goals.

Oh and for the second time in his young career, Matthews reached the 40-goal plateau and was on the cusp of 50 had it not been for the ongoing pandemic cutting things short. He was on pace for 55 goals at the stoppage.

Mitchell Marner was second on the Leafs roster in scoring with 16-51–67 totals in 59 games played– surpassing the 50-assist plateau for the second straight season and further proving his vital role as a playmaker on the roster.

Meanwhile, John Tavares had 26 goals and 34 assists (60 points) in 63 games, which was down from his 47-41–88 totals last season, but then again, he was on pace for 78 points this season had the regular season seen its proper conclusion, so really he wasn’t all that far off from a typical Tavares year.

As it is, the only time Tavares has ever had less than 50 points in a season was in the lockout shortened, 48-game, 2012-13 season, in which he had 47 points in all 48 games.

Yeah, he’s pretty good.

In the crease, the Maple Leafs were led by Frederik Anderson (29-13-7 record in 52 games played, 2.85 GAA, .909 SV%, three shutouts), but hold the phone! What’s this? Toronto acquired a legitimate backup netminder during the season!?!

That’s right, Jack Campbell (3-2-1 in six games with Toronto, six starts, 2.63 GAA, .915 SV% in that span) is a Maple Leaf and– heaven forbid– is more than capable of bailing out Toronto if things get dire with Andersen.

Oh and Sheldon Keefe is in charge behind the bench.

Plus there’s a wild card this year for Toronto that the rest of the league has yet to see– Nick Robertson. You know, the forward that had 55-31–88 totals in 46 games with the Peterborough Petes (OHL) this season and brings both even more speed and skill to the Maple Leafs lineup.

At the other side of the rink, the Columbus Blue Jackets were battered all season and had a trio of goaltenders at one point as a result, yet somehow, here they are to the surprise of all the experts that had them pegged for 8th place in the Metropolitan Division heading into the 2019-20 season after losing Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel and Sergei Bobrovsky in free agency.

It’s all just part of the plan.

Many had them out against the Lightning last year and, well, the Blue Jackets brought the thunder in that series.

Unfortunately for CBJ fans, they couldn’t bring the cannon through customs, but they were able to bring their leading scorer, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and his 18-31–49 totals in 70 games this season.

Gustav Nyquist had a respectable 42-point season (15 goals, 27 assists) in 70 games with Columbus after being brought in via free agency, while Zach Werenski was third on the team in scoring with 20 goals and 21 assists (41 points) from the blue line in 63 games.

Columbus has the better defense on paper, but Toronto’s offense has more than enough firepower to outmatch the Blue Jackets’ best efforts.

In goal, however, emerged the rise of a new king (but not of rock)– Elvis Merzlikins. Though Joonas Korpisalo (19-12-5, 2.60 GAA, .911 SV%, two shutouts) played in more games (37 played, 35 starts) than Merzlikins, No. 90 in red, white and blue had the better numbers with a 13-9-8 record in 33 games played (31 starts), as well as a 2.35 GAA, a .923 SV% and five shutouts.

It’s the dawn of a new age in Columbus as a hot, young, goaltending tandem has arrived with the departure of Bobrovsky.

It’ll be Merzlikins’ biggest test, but the Blue Jackets just might be a lot better off now more than ever riding the hot goaltender.

Plus they struck down the dragon last spring and made it out of the First Round for the first time in franchise history, so now anything’s possible moving forward.

On paper this is the most even matchup as both teams finished with 81 points, had 70 games played and went won one out of the two games they played against one another before the pandemic shortened the regular season, but it’s hard to ignore one thing– Tortorella.

Once more Tortorella is a Jack Adams Award finalist and, oh yeah, he’s kind of responsible for figuring out how to not only beat, but sweep the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2019 First Round– you know, last year’s Presidents’ Trophy winners.

But a newcomer has entered the chat and that’s Keefe. He led the Toronto Marlies (AHL) to the 2018 Calder Cup championship and many of the players in the Leafs system have encountered his touch in recent years.

Is Keefe the answer to Toronto’s prayers or will yet another team that’s come into the league since their last Cup in 1967 raise Lord Stanley’s mug over their heads while the Maple Leafs are off somewhere preparing for next season?

The good news, this isn’t technically the playoffs yet, so that means Toronto’s got a better chance off the bat.

There’s not as much of a distraction surrounding their opponent (*ahem* for once, it’s not Boston!– yet, anyway), let alone the “hasn’t made it out of the First Round since before the 2004-05 season-long lockout” specter that shadows the Leafs.

The bad news, they’re the Maple Leafs. Of course only something like a pandemic would throw off any momentum they had going into a possible playoff run, etc.

Imagine if the Chicago Cubs didn’t win in 2016, or the Boston Red Sox didn’t win in 2004– yeah, that’s how most Toronto fans feel day-in and day-out– no matter how confident– no matter how much belief they have in the team.

There’s always that chance that something something goes wrong and the curse or whatever remains hanging over the Maple Leafs dressing room and front office.

Leafs in five, then we’ll see what happens, but Tortorella’s teams aren’t easy to knock off their game. This alone might be Toronto’s greatest test in the Matthews, Marner and Co. Era.

Mike Babcock’s gone. They’re playing the “new age” game. Can they get it done?

Regular season outcomes:

4-1 TOR at Nationwide Arena on Oct. 4th, 4-3 F/OT CBJ at Scotiabank Arena on Oct. 21st

Schedule:

8/2- Game 1 CBJ @ TOR 8 PM ET on NHLN, SN, TVAS

8/4- Game 2 CBJ @ TOR 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

8/6- Game 3 TOR @ CBJ in Toronto TBD

8/7- Game 4 TOR @ CBJ in Toronto*

8/9- Game 5 CBJ @ TOR*

*If necessary


2020 Eastern Conference Round Robin Action

Here’s a quick glance at the Round Robin schedule for the top-four Eastern Conference teams if you’re not at all interested in the Qualifiers for some reason.

Again, all games in the Eastern Conference are in Toronto this year and all times Eastern.

Boston Bruins

44-14-12, 100 points, 70 GP, .714 PTS%, 38 RW

Aug. 2nd vs. PHI in Toronto 3 PM ET on NBC, SN, TVAS

Aug. 5th vs. TBL in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

Aug. 9th @ WSH in Toronto, TBD

Tampa Bay Lightning

43-21-6, 92 points, 70 GP, .657 PTS%, 35 RW

Aug. 3rd vs. WSH in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN360, TVAS

Aug. 5th @ BOS in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

Aug. 8th vs. PHI in Toronto, TBD

Washington Capitals

41-20-8, 90 points, 69 GP, .652 PTS%, 31 RW

Aug. 3rd @TBL in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN360, TVAS

Aug. 6th @ PHI in Toronto, TBD

Aug. 9th vs. BOS in Toronto, TBD

Philadelphia Flyers

41-21-7, 89 points, 69 GP, .645 PTS%, 31 RW

Aug. 2nd @ BOS in Toronto 3 PM ET on NBC, SN, TVAS

Aug. 6th vs. WSH in Toronto, TBD

Aug. 8th @ TBL in Toronto, TBD

DTFR Podcast #176- A Day Late

The new format of the DTFR Podcast is introduced as Dustin Byfuglien is out for an extended period of time, Louis Domingue was traded, Scott Sabourin suffered a scary injury and the New York Islanders are on a nine-game winning streak.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple PodcastsStitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

2019-20 League Forecast Entering November

For the first time this season, the calendar is flipped to a new month– and with a new month comes new expectations.

All 31 National Hockey League teams are starting to find a rhythm– for better or worse– and it’s time to acknowledge the general trends of what to expect based on what’s already happened for the first 1/8th of the season (approximately).

American Thanksgiving is still around the corner, which means that any team in a playoff position by Nov. 28th is more likely to qualify for the playoffs by April 4th.

There’s enough time between now and then for a lot to change.

As always, that means it’s time for a new forecast based on what we’ve seen so far and what we may see in the future.

In other words, here’s an educated guess based on a formulaic approach thanks to the wonderful world of spreadsheets.

This isn’t an exact science. It takes into account everything from the last few seasons, as well as every little detail through the end of Oct. 31, 2019.

Anything can happen. It’s a long road to April.

Projected Standings After One Month

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

  1. p-Boston Bruins, 110 points (12 games played entering November 1st)
  2. x-Tampa Bay Lightning, 106 points (12 GP)
  3. x-Montreal Canadiens, 92 points (13 GP)
  4. Florida Panthers, 91 points (13 GP)
  5. Toronto Maple Leafs, 91 points (14 GP)
  6. Buffalo Sabres, 82 points (13 GP)
  7. Detroit Red Wings, 79 points (13 GP)
  8. Ottawa Senators, 74 points (11 GP)

The Boston Bruins are off to a hot start thanks to Tuukka Rask’s stellar goaltending (6-0-1 record, 1.42 goals against average, .951 save percentage in seven games played) and David Pastrnak’s hot stick (12-12–24 totals in 12 games played).

Bruce Cassidy’s leadership behind the bench has steered the B’s away from a Stanley Cup Final appearance hangover and towards another playoff berth for what would be the fourth year in-a-row.

Meanwhile, after a slow start to their season, Jon Cooper and the Tampa Bay Lightning casually waltz into home ice advantage in at least the First Round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs and Claude Julien re-enters the postseason frame with the Montreal Canadiens as if it’s 2004 again (granted, Julien and the Habs made it in 2017, but only after Julien replaced Michel Therrien as head coach for the second time).

Joel Quenneville’s first season as head coach of the Florida Panthers led to an improvement, but not quite enough to get them back into the postseason, while another Stanely Cup winning coach took his team in a different direction.

That coach is Mike Babcock and that team is the Toronto Maple Leafs, who trudged through the middle of the road all season and ended up just outside of a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference (unless Kyle Dubas and Brendan Shanahan decide to stray from the “Shanaplan”).

Though the Buffalo Sabres are hot right now, it seems history repeats itself. Buffalo’s great October, November and/or December wasn’t enough to sustain themselves through the winer months of January, February and March, but overall the team improved and should be a playoff contender next season.

At least the Sabres aren’t the Detroit Red Wings (still a few years away from being a contender) or the Ottawa Senators (they say they’ll spend money in 2021, but…).

Metropolitan Division

  1. y-Washington Capitals, 110 points (14 GP)
  2. x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 102 points (13 GP)
  3. x-New York Islanders, 95 points (11 GP)
  4. wc1-Carolina Hurricanes, 92 points (12 GP)
  5. wc2-Columbus Blue Jackets, 91 points (12 GP)
  6. Philadelphia Flyers, 89 points (11 GP)
  7. New York Rangers, 87 points (10 GP)
  8. New Jersey Devils, 81 points (10 GP)

Alex Ovechkin continues his annual quest for the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy and likely succeeds unless Pastrnak has anything to say about it.

In the meantime, the Washington Capitals continue to take home the regular season crown in the Metropolitan Division because somehow they always seem to do that no matter the postseason outcome.

The Pittsburgh Penguins avoid major missteps without Evgeni Malkin in the lineup for most of October due to injury and turned things on for the duration of the second half of the season as they always do, yielding 2nd place in the Metropolitan Division.

Barry Trotz’s leadership with the New York Islanders has keep things tight-knit and playoff bound, but unless every 2020 Stanley Cup Playoff home game for the Isles is played at NYCB Live/Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, then it’s not worth it.

Rod Brind’Amour is the best coach for the Carolina Hurricanes and he continues to climb the ranks of “best head coaches in franchise history” with another wild card appearance, at least, and what should be yet another thrilling playoff run for the Canes.

Meanwhile, somehow the Columbus Blue Jackets pieced together enough wins to snag the last wild card spot in the Eastern Conference before bowing out in the First Round due to a lack of depth.

Finally, the Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils are all near the bottom of the division, but only with a few points spread between them– meaning that anything after 1st or 2nd place in the division is realistically up for grabs as long as a team goes on a perfectly timed run.

Western Conference

Central Division

  1. z-Nashville Predators, 104 points (13 GP)
  2. x-St. Louis Blues, 101 points (13 GP)
  3. x-Winnipeg Jets, 93 points (13 GP)
  4. wc1-Colorado Avalanche, 92 points (12 GP)
  5. Chicago Blackhawks, 87 points (11 GP)
  6. Dallas Stars, 86 points (14 GP)
  7. Minnesota Wild, 85 points (13 GP)

In the Western Conference, the Nashville Predators are going to pounce on the competition as the leaders of the West in the regular season. The only trouble is, they still might blow it in the last second of overtime or something.

The defending champion St. Louis Blues are content to finish 2nd in the Central Division, but remain hungry in their quest for another Cup.

After a slow start to the season, Paul Maurice and the Winnipeg Jets somehow right the ship and earned themselves the last divisional spot in the Central Division.

But the Colorado Avalanche hold a wild card spot in the latest forecast as the real wild card of the entire Western Conference. Injuries could hold them back in the regular season, but they’ve shown they can make noise in the playoffs last spring.

Otherwise, if the Avs can stay healthy for longer periods of time, then Colorado could climb in the standings.

Finally, the Chicago Blackhawks are still trending in the wrong direction– facing the existential crisis of holding onto the old guard or continuing to dismantle their Cup-winning core– while the Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild compete for the worst of the former and/or current Minnesota franchises this season.

Spoiler alert, it’s the Wild.

Pacific Division

  1. y-Vegas Golden Knights, 101 points (14 GP)
  2. x-Anaheim Ducks, 96 points (14 GP)
  3. x-San Jose Sharks, 92 points (13 GP)
  4. wc2-Calgary Flames, 91 points (15 GP)
  5. Vancouver Canucks, 89 points (12 GP)
  6. Edmonton Oilers, 84 points (14 GP)
  7. Arizona Coyotes, 82 points (12 GP)
  8. Los Angeles Kings, 82 points (13 GP)

Nothing is going how things were expected to go in the Pacific Division and as a result, there’s still no conclusive results.

The Vegas Golden Knights are good and could likely win the Pacific Division regular season title, but the Anaheim Ducks aren’t bowing out of playoff contention just yet.

Meanwhile, the San Jose Sharks are as bad as the Los Angeles Kings, so this forecast will be further fine-tuned next month as the Sharks continue to slip from dominant to dormant in the standings.

The Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers all might take a stab at playoff contention, yet the Arizona Coyotes are on the rise.

At the very least, this is the most unpredictable division in the league that not even our current forecast can make any definitive claims.

Check back next month for further separation in the spread, as well as a more realistic view of where each team should likely land within the range of standings.

New York Islanders 2019-20 Season Preview

New York Islanders

48-27-7, 103 points, 2nd in the Metropolitan Division

Eliminated in the Second Round by Carolina

Additions: F Derick Brassard, D Luca Sbisa (signed to a PTO), G Semyon Varlamov

Subtractions: F Steve Bernier (signed with Bridgeport, AHL), F Valtteri Filppula (signed with DET), F Stephen Gionta (retired), F Mike Sislo (DEL), F John Steven (signed with Bridgeport, AHL), G Robin Lehner (signed with CHI), G Jeremy Smith (KHL)

Still Unsigned: D Dennis Seidenberg

Re-signed: F Anthony Beauvillier, F Michael Dal Colle, F Josh Ho-Sang, F Tom Kuhnhackl, F Anders Lee

Offseason Analysis: The New York Islanders turned heads last season after losing a franchise player in free agency. Head coach, Barry Trotz, is always capable of making something out of nothing– even if that something only gets you to the Second Round.

New York swept the Pittsburgh Penguins in four games in the First Round, then were swept by the Carolina Hurricanes in the Second Round– just as everyone expected heading into 2018-19, right?

Isles GM Lou Lamoriello followed up last season’s forward progress with a mixed result in the offseason.

While he signed Anders Lee to a long-term, seven-year extension worth $7.000 million per season, Lamoriello also kicked out one of last season’s heroes.

Robin Lehner wanted to get a deal done with New York, but when Lamoriello thought he was getting Artemi Panarin at a long-term deal with a lot of money, plans didn’t include Lehner into the equation.

Then Panarin signed with the New York Rangers and Lehner was ready to go back to the Islanders, but Lamoriello had already moved on and locked up Semyon Varlamov to a four-year, $20.000 million contract.

For the same price Lehner got paid by the Chicago Blackhawks, Lamoriello got an additional three years out of Varlamov.

One of these things, however, just isn’t like the other.

Lehner, 28, won the William M. Jennings Trophy with Thomas Greiss last season and nabbed the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy with a bounce-back performance in the crease, amassing a 2.13 goals against average and a .930 save percentage in 46 games for New York last season, while battling addiction and mental health issues.

Varlamov, 31, had a 2.87 GAA and a .909 SV% in 49 games with the Colorado Avalanche last season and has not had a sub-2.50 GAA since the 2013-14 season, in which he recorded a 2.41 GAA in 63 games for the Avs.

Aside from that, the Islanders are getting older without utilizing all of their youth options and they haven’t made a trade since July 2018.

Offseason Grade: C

It was an average offseason for New York as the Islanders continue to be praised for their future visions at Belmont Park, the fact that an additional seven games were switched from Barclays Center to NYCB Live/Nassau Coliseum and the fact that Lamoriello did next to nothing out of the ordinary.

One goaltender in, one goaltender out. The rest of the moves were par for the course. Nothing flashy– just like how they’ll keep playing this season.

2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs Second Round Preview: Eastern Conference

How’s your bracket doing? Not great? Well, you should have taken my advice for the last round (except for Calgary and Tampa). Maybe you’ll nail the Second Chance Bracket the NHL is offering.

Or maybe you won’t.

Regardless, the First Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs is over and the Second Round starts on Thursday. As such, let’s take a look at every matchup like we did for the last round.

A2 Boston Bruins (49-24-9, 107 points) vs EWC2 Columbus Blue Jackets (47-31-4, 98 points)

The Bruins went 2-1-0 against the Blue Jackets in the regular season and matched Columbus’ intensity at times throughout all three games in the season series.

Boston is coming off a seven game series win over the Toronto Maple Leafs for the second year in a row and is getting more than enough production from their bottom six forwards as of late.

Charlie Coyle has consistently been the best player on the ice for the B’s– going hard to the corners and dirty areas, carrying the puck and adding 3-1–4 totals (tied for 5th on the roster in scoring).

As usual, Brad Marchand leads the Bruins this postseason in goals, assists and points with 4-5–9 totals entering the Second Round, while the rest of the first line– Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak— has five and six points, respectively.

But wait, what’s that? Bruce Cassidy moved Pastrnak to the second line right wing with Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci and promoted Danton Heinen to the first line right wing?

Yes, short of Krejci and Pastrnak’s performance in the First Round matchup, the B’s are looking to get a little more from DeBrusk (one goal against Toronto) against Columbus.

Tuukka Rask (4-3-0 record, 2.31 goals against average, .928 save percentage in seven games this postseason) has been solid in his last few starts and looks to maintain momentum as things get going with the Blue Jackets.

For the first time in franchise history, Columbus advanced past the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Not only that, but they rocketed past the Tampa Bay Lightning– sweeping the 2018-19 President’s Trophy winners with the best regular season record of 62-16-4 (tying the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for the most wins in a season) in just four postseason games.

Blue Jackets head coach, John Tortorella, is quite familiar with what it takes to knockoff one of the best teams already heading into the Second Round and he has a Stanley Cup championship to his name with the (you guessed it) 2004 Lightning.

Columbus is led by trade deadline acquisition, Matt Duchene, in scoring with sevens points (three goals, four assists) in four games this postseason.

Pending-UFA this July, Artemi Panarin, is 2nd on the roster with 2-3–5 totals, followed by a three-way tie for 3rd between Cam Atkinson, Oliver Bjorkstrand and Seth Jones with four points.

The Blue Jackets have a lot of speed and firepower and they have guys like, former Bruin, Riley Nash on their penalty kill.

Though he finished the regular season with a career-worst 12 points (three goals, nine assists) in 78 games played (ignoring his nine points in 32 games in the lockout shortened 2012-13 season and previous one point in five games in 2011-12), Nash has reached the back of the twine once already in the playoffs.

After recording a career-high and league-best nine shutouts in the regular season, Sergei Bobrovsky (4-0-0, 2.01 GAA, .932 SV% in four games this postseason) has the upper hand in goaltending– statistically speaking, of course.

He is in the midst of his postseason career-best performance, but he has faced the Bruins before in the Eastern Conference Semifinals in 2011 as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers. That year, Boston swept Philly and went on to win the Cup, while Bobrovsky suffered two losses in three starts (six games played) and amassed a 3.23 GAA and .877 SV%.

He was just a rookie, but if anyone’s done their research on how to beat Bobrovsky it might just be the Bruins. In his two starts against Boston this season (March 12th and April 2nd) he allowed four goals in each game.

Granted, the playoffs are a different breed from the regular season, Boston should still find a way to deal with Tortorella’s all-in crew in six games.

Regular season outcomes:

6-2 BOS at Nationwide Arena on April 2nd, 2-1 F/OT BOS at TD Garden on March 16th, 7-4 CBJ at Nationwide Arena on March 12th

Schedule:

4/25- Game 1 CBJ @ BOS 7 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

4/27- Game 2 CBJ @ BOS 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS

4/30- Game 3 BOS @ CBJ 7 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

5/2- Game 4 BOS @ CBJ 7:30 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

5/4- Game 5 CBJ @ BOS 7:15 PM ET on NBC, TVAS*

5/6- Game 6 BOS @ CBJ*

5/8- Game 7 CBJ @ BOS*

*If necessary

M2 New York Islanders (48-27-7, 103 points) vs EWC1 Carolina Hurricanes (46-29-7, 99 points)

New York went 3-1-0 against Carolina in the regular season, but don’t let that influence anything.

The Islanders split their games against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the regular season, then went on to sweep them in the First Round and the Hurricanes lost every game against the Washington Capitals in the regular season, but defeated the defending Stanley Cup champions in seven games.

Welcome to the playoffs.

Barry Trotz is in his first season behind the bench of the Islanders and brought his usual anchor of a defensive style, while General Manager Lou Lamoriello brought some stability to the front office, as well as the roster as New York said “goodbye” to John Tavares last July.

The Isles led the Metropolitan Division at times this season, but faltered late in February and March to 2nd place in the division standings.

Yet, this team has almost always performed better when just about everyone is counting them out.

When Tavares left, many experts didn’t see anything that could make up for the hole in the roster.

When the puck dropped against the Penguins in the First Round, many thought Pittsburgh’s three Cups in the last ten years would have brought more than enough experience to outperform the defending Stanley Cup champion head coach.

New York has been led by Jordan Eberle in scoring this postseason as the former Edmonton Oiler has amassed a goal a game and six points (four goals, two assists) in four playoff games this year.

As for Mathew Barzal? He leads the team in assists with five.

Josh Bailey and Valtteri Filppula each have four points through four games.

In goal, Robin Lehner (4-0-0, 1.47 GAA, .956 SV% in four games played this postseason) is blazing through his prior struggles in the crease in his first postseason as a starting goaltender.

It’s a team effort that’s gotten the Isles this far. But it’s also a team effort that’s let the Hurricanes into the Second Round.

Making their first postseason appearance since 2009, Carolina entered Game 7 in Washington boasting a 4-0 record in such games since relocating from Hartford.

The Canes trailed 2-0, and 3-1, but they forced overtime and won the game, 4-3, in double overtime– improving to 5-0, since the Whalers last existed, in Game 7s and knocking off Alex Ovechkin and his pals.

For the 19th time in the last 20 postseasons, there won’t be a repeat champion.

Rod Brind’Amour won a Cup with Carolina as player in 2006. He’s in his first season behind the bench as the Hurricanes head coach and joined Dallas Stars head coach, Jim Montgomery, as the only rookie coaches this season to advance to the Second Round.

Brind’Amour’s lineup has been led from the back-end out with Jaccob Slavin leading in scoring with nine assists in seven postseason games.

Warren Foegele leads the team in goals with four and is tied for 2nd in scoring with Jordan Staal and Dougie Hamilton on the roster. Each player has six points this postseason.

The man that scored the series clinching goal against the Caps, Brock McGinn, has 2-3–5 totals, as does Sebastian Aho, in seven games.

In the crease, Petr Mrazek (4-3-0, 2.53 GAA, .899 SV% in seven games played this postseason) has battened down the hatches for the Canes.

The last time Carolina won a Game 7 on the road in overtime, they beat the Boston Bruins in the 2009 Eastern Conference Semifinals. There’s no reason not to believe in a team after what we’ve witnessed from that said organization which has promised others to Take Warning all season long.

It’s ten years in the making, but the Hurricanes will get back to the Eastern Conference Final for the first time since they last appeared in that round against the Penguins in 2009 (Pittsburgh swept the series to advance to the Stanley Cup Final).

Carolina will defeat the Islanders in six games and meet up with the Bruins in the 2019 Eastern Conference Final.

PNC Arena is louder than Barclays Center– and overall better– and it’s shame the Islanders can’t just keep using the NYCB Live for the Second Round.

#CanesIn6

Regular season outcomes:

4-3 CAR at NYCB Live/Nassau Coliseum on Jan. 8th, 4-1 NYI at Barclays Center on Nov. 24th, 2-1 NYI at PNC Arena on Oct. 28th, 2-1 F/OT NYI at PNC Arena on Oct. 4th

Schedule:

4/26- Game 1 CAR @ NYI 7 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

4/28- Game 2 CAR @ NYI 3 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS

5/1- Game 3 NYI @ CAR 7 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

5/3- Game 4 NYI @ CAR 7 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

5/5- Game 5 CAR @ NYI*

5/7- Game 6 NYI @ CAR*

5/8- Game 7 CAR @ NYI*

*If necessary

2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round Preview: Eastern Conference

*cue Andy Williams*

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

The Stanley Cup Playoffs have returned and all is right with the world (unless your team missed the postseason).

In the past, we here at Down the Frozen River have covered every game of every series.

This year, we’re mixing it up a bit– starting with this preview of every First Round series in the Eastern Conference, continuing with a followup preview of every First Round series in the Western Conference and as much analysis as possible on the DTFR Podcast in addition to the blog.

Ch-ch-ch-changes are inevitable and yours truly cannot cover all 16 teams in the postseason alone.

A1 Tampa Bay Lightning (62-14-6, 128 points) vs EWC2 Columbus Blue Jackets (47-31-4, 98 points)

The Tampa Bay Lightning clinched the President’s Trophy (for the first time in franchise history) by mid-March and finished with the 4th most points in a season in NHL history, while star forward, Nikita Kucherov, amassed 128 points (the most by a Russian born player in a season) and Andrei Vasilevskiy (39-10-4 record, 2.40 goals against average, .925 save percentage in 53 games played) turned in a Vezina Trophy worthy performance in the crease.

Oh yeah and Steven Stamkos had 45 goals.

The Bolts also tied the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for most wins in a regular season (62).

Backup goaltender, Louis Domingue (21-5-0, 2.88 GAA, .908 SV% in 26 GP) posted respectable numbers as well in the Lightning’s thunderous run through the season.

Tampa has home ice throughout the playoffs and kicks things off with a First Round matchup against the Columbus Blue Jackets, who punched their ticket to the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a, 3-2, shootout victory over the New York Rangers last Friday– eliminating the Montreal Canadiens from postseason contention in the process.

Columbus was all over the Metropolitan Division this season, but went all-in at the trade deadline, adding Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, Adam McQuaid and Keith Kinkaid for the stretch run.

Duchene and Dzingel quickly fit in to their respective top-nine roles, while McQuaid struggled to find a suitor on the blue line at first in his return to the organization that originally drafted him 55th overall in the 2005 NHL Draft before he was traded to the Boston Bruins and broke into the league with the B’s in 2009-10.

Kinkaid was added solely for goaltending depth as pending-unrestricted free agent, Sergei Bobrovsky (37-24-1, 2.58 GAA, .913 SV% in 62 GP) led the league with nine shutouts on the season.

Blue Jackets backup goaltender, Joonas Korpisalo (10-7-3, 2.95 GAA, .897 SV% in 27 GP) hit some rough patches at times, but found a way to dig his team out from the backend when necessary.

In the grand scheme of things, the Bolts won the season series, 3-0-0, and outscored Columbus, 17-3, in that span.

While many consider Columbus as a Stanley Cup Playoffs pushover– given the franchise has never won a series– Blue Jackets head coach, John Tortorella always poses a tough challenge that can wear down his opponent.

Lightning head coach, Jon Cooper, earns his own merit in his ability to keep his players cool, calm, collected and always in comeback mode, but it’s not unfathomable to see the Blue Jackets pestering Tampa about as much– if not more than– Columbus did to Washington in last season’s First Round matchup.

After all, the Blue Jackets did lead that series, 2-0.

That said, this is Tampa’s year for a Cup run or bust. The Lightning should win the series in six games.

Regular season outcomes:

5-1 TBL at Nationwide Arena on Feb. 18th, 4-0 TBL at Amalie Arena on Jan. 8th, 8-2 TBL at Amalie Arena on Oct. 13th

Schedule:

4/10- Game 1 CBJ @ TBL 7 PM ET on USA , SN360, TVAS

4/12- Game 2 CBJ @ TBL 7 PM ET on CNBC, SN360, TVAS

4/14- Game 3 TBL @ CBJ 7 PM ET on NBCSN, SN360, TVAS

4/16- Game 4 TBL @ CBJ 7 PM ET on CNBC, SN360, TVAS

4/19- Game 5 CBJ @ TBL*

4/21- Game 6 TBL @ CBJ*

4/23- Game 7 CBJ @ TBL*

*If necessary

A2 Boston Bruins (49-24-9, 107 points) vs A3 Toronto Maple Leafs (46-28-8, 100 points)

For the second season in a row, the Boston Bruins are hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs in the First Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Despite being without Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara at one point this season, the Bruins rallied from their 12th defenseman on up through the rest of the lineup to finish one win shy of consecutive 50-win seasons in Bruce Cassidy‘s third season (second full season) as head coach.

Speaking of Bergeron, however, the perfect two-way center finished the season with a career-high in points (79) and matched his career-high in goals (32) while battling injury early in the season. Bergeron’s 32-47–79 totals came in just 65 games. That’s only one more game played than last season for No. 37 in black-and-gold.

Meanwhile, his linemates, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak each reached milestones of their own. Marchand reached the 100-point plateau this season and became the first Bruin to do so since Joe Thornton recorded 101 points in 2002-03.

The “Little Ball of Hate” also set a career-high in assists (64) and was not suspended in 79 games played this season (he was rested for the final two games in the regular season and missed one game due to injury).

Pastrnak set a career-high in goals (38) and points (81) despite missing time due to a left thumb injury and being limited to 66 games played.

The B’s were led in net this season by Tuukka Rask (27-13-5, 2.48 GAA, .912 SV% in 46 GP) and Jaroslav Halak (22-11-4, 2.34 GAA, .922 SV% in 40 GP) in a 1A/1B scenario. For the first time since the 1989-90 season, Boston had two goaltenders with 20-plus wins.

Back north in Toronto, the Maple Leafs added a formidable center in John Tavares in free agency and his presence was immediate, notching career-highs in goals (47 ) and points (88) in 82 games.

Auston Matthews (37-36–73 totals in 68 games) and Mitch Marner (26-68–94 totals in 82 games) continued to their thing as the $11.634 million man (starting next season) and the soon to be at least $10.000 million boy wonder man.

Maple Leafs General Manager, Kyle Dubas, added Jake Muzzin in January in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings in effort to shore up his blue line, however, questions remain as to how head coach, Mike Babcock will limit time on ice for veterans, like Ron Hainsey, and mix in more opportunities for Morgan Rielly (20-52–72 totals in 82 games) in his breakout season.

Boston won the season series, 3-1-0, outscoring Toronto, 16-10, in that span.

Some experts are picking the Bruins in five games. They also said similar things in 2013 and 2018. This series is going six games (at least), with Boston overcoming the Maple Leafs defense in Game 7, once again.

To their credit, Toronto always makes things interesting in what’s likely to be the most unpredictable First Round matchup.

Regular season outcomes:

3-2 BOS at Scotiabank Arena on Jan. 12th, 6-3 BOS at TD Garden on Dec. 8th, 4-2 TOR at Scotiabank Arena on Nov. 26th, 5-1 BOS at TD Garden on Nov. 10th

Schedule:

4/11- Game 1 TOR @ BOS 7 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

4/13- Game 2 TOR @ BOS 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, TVAS

4/15- Game 3 BOS @ TOR 7 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS

4/17- Game 4 BOS @ TOR 7 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS

4/19- Game 5 TOR @ BOS*

4/21- Game 6 BOS @ TOR*

4/23- Game 7 TOR @ BOS*

*If necessary

M1 Washington Capitals (48-26-8, 104 points) vs EWC1 Carolina Hurricanes (46-29-7, 99 points)

Just as everyone expected, the Washington Capitals led the Metropolitan Division with 104 points after Barry Trotz left for the head coaching job on Long Island. Did I mention the Capitals are the defending Stanley Cup champions?

Anyway, Alex Ovechkin scored 51 goals and collected his 8th career Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy as a result– though Edmonton Oilers forward, Leon Draisaitl, was hot on his tail with 50 goals this season.

After the New York Islanders led the Metropolitan Division for what seemed like forever, it’s important to note the Metro was actually anybody’s game from puck drop in October. Here’s the thing, the Carolina Hurricanes were near the top of the division– they’ve been surging all season.

Speaking of surging, Carolina introduced their “Storm Surge” post-win celebration and the Caniacs loved it.

For those of you who haven’t been paying attention to the club in Raleigh, Brett Pesce is good. Also, Sebastian Aho (30-53–83 totals in 82 GP), Andrei Svechnikov (20-17–37 totals in 82 GP) and Teuvo Teravainen (21-55–76 totals in 82 games)– they’re pretty good too.

Washington was led by Braden Holtby (32-19-5, 2.82 GAA, .911 SV% in 59 GP) between the pipes this season and is comforted to know Pheonix Copley (16-7-3, 2.90 GAA, .905 SV% in 27 GP) is quite capable of playing this season’s role of Philipp Grubauer (since traded to the Colorado Avalanche after last season’s Cup celebrations).

The Canes were led by a duo of goaltenders who were once thought of as an after thought in Curtis McElhinney (20-11-2, 2.58 GAA, .912 SV% in 33 GP) and Petr Mrazek (23-14-3, 2.39 GAA, .914 SV% in 40 GP).

Though his record might not show it, Mrazek has been hitting his stride for the last month and is locked in. Ride that wave until it crests.

The Hurricanes had a league-leading ten skaters play in all 82 games. There’s no such thing as playing too much hockey– especially when it’s the first postseason appearance since 2009.

Last year, the Columbus Blue Jackets gave the Caps some interruptions coming out of the gate.

Despite Washington having swept the season series, 4-0-0, the Hurricanes kept things close in their most recent matchup with a, 3-2, loss at PNC Arena on March 28th.

Carolina almost pulled off the victory in a shootout on Dec. 14th, but lost, 6-5, on home ice to the Capitals.

Washington is beatable. Hurricanes head coach, Rod Brind’Amour knows that, his team just hasn’t done it yet. Caps head coach, Todd Reirden, is also making his postseason debut at the reigns behind the bench for his respective team.

Though they won the Cup last season– that was then. This is now.

This series is going seven games and the Hurricanes will make sure there’s no repeat Cup winner this year.

Regular season outcomes:

3-2 WSH at PNC Arena on March 28th, 4-1 WSH at Capital One Arena on March 26th, 3-1 WSH at Capital One Arena on Dec. 27th, 6-5 F/SO WSH at PNC Arena on Dec. 14th

Schedule:

4/11- Game 1 CAR @ WSH 7:30 PM ET on USA, SN360, TVAS2

4/13- Game 2 CAR @ WSH 3 PM ET on NBC, SN, TVAS

4/15- Game 3 WSH @ CAR 7 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS2

4/18- Game 4 WSH @ CAR 7 PM ET on TBD, SN360, TVAS

4/20- Game 5 CAR @ WSH*

4/22- Game 6 WSH @ CAR*

4/24- Game 7 CAR @ WSH*

*If necessary

M2 New York Islanders (48-27-7, 103 points) vs M3 Pittsburgh Penguins (44-26-12, 100 points)

Barry Trotz figured out how to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins last season with the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals. Trotz is the key. Trotz knows the secret stuff to beat Mike Sullivan and his Penguins.

That’s why the William M. Jennings Trophy winning duo of Robin Lehner (25-13-5, 2.13 GAA, .930 SV% in 46 GP) and Thomas Greiss (23-14-2, 2.28 GAA, .927 SV% in 43 GP) will backstop the New York Islanders past Pittsburgh in their First Round matchup in six games.

Am I getting ahead of myself? Probably.

New York split the season series with the Pens, 2-1-1, with their most recent result against Pittsburgh coming in a, 2-1, shootout loss on Dec. 10th at NYCB Live (that’s the Nassau Coliseum, if you haven’t already heard. The Isles will host their First Round games there).

Islanders General Manager Lou Lamoriello put together a team without John Tavares. Trotz figured out how to get the most out of his players– guys like Matt Martin, Leo Komarov, Casey Cizikas and even Andrew Ladd (until Ladd got injured)– while playing the trap.

That same trap won the Cup last season.

This season, Trotz has Mathew Barzal and Anders Lee as his main attractions instead of names like Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

Long Island residents have long memories– the Penguins are one of their greatest rivals– and the added energy of Tavares’ departure has only fueled more passion all season long.

Can New York flip the switch from their late season bumps in the road?

Obviously, Pittsburgh has Sidney Crosby. They also have Evgeni Malkin. Crosby and Malkin are ready to go for another deep postseason run after watching their biggest rival not only beat them in the Second Round last year, but go on to take the Cup out of the hands of the Penguins’ recent streak of dominance in 2016 and 2017.

Patric Hornqvist is also another silent killer option for Sullivan when his team needs a clutch goal– and that’s on top of Jake Guentzel and Phil Kessel throughout the rest of the lineup.

The Penguins were led in the crease by Matt Murray (29-14-6, 2.69 GAA, .919 SV% in 50 GP) this season with some helpful bailout backup goaltending from Casey DeSmith (15-11-5, 2.75 GAA, .916 SV% in 36 GP). If Murray shows any signs of wavering, Sullivan shouldn’t have a hard time going to DeSmith to push his team over the edge.

How will Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann play into the fold as Jim Rutherford‘s biggest prize acquisitions this season? Who might be the breakout star for Pittsburgh that outshines Crosby in the Conn Smythe Trophy vote?

Aren’t these questions supposed to be answered in an editorial preview? Sure.

Regular season outcomes:

2-1 F/SO PIT at NYCB Live on Dec. 10th, 6-2 PIT at PPG Paints Arena on Dec. 6th, 3-2 F/SO NYI at Barclays Center on Nov. 1st, 6-3 NYI at PPG Paints Arena on Oct. 30th

Schedule:

4/10- Game 1 PIT @ NYI 7:30 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS2

4/12- Game 2 PIT @ NYI 7:30 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS2

4/14- Game 3 NYI @ PIT 12 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS

4/16- Game 4 NYI @ PIT 7:30 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS2

4/18- Game 5 PIT @ NYI*

4/20- Game 6 NYI @ PIT*

4/22- Game 7 PIT @ NYI*

Team effort lifts Bruins over Islanders, 5-0

Sean Kuraly scored two goals in the Boston Bruins’, 5-0, victory over the New York Islanders to kick off Boston’s four-game road trip on Tuesday night at NYCB Live.

Tuukka Rask (25-10-5 record, 2.39 goals against average, .917 save percentage in 41 games played) made 13 saves on 13 shots against for his 4th shutout of the season in the win for Boston.

Islanders goaltender, Robin Lehner (20-12-5, 2.27 GAA, .925 SV% in 39 GP) stopped 34 out of 39 shots faced for an .872 SV% in the loss.

The Bruins improved to 44-20-9 (97 points) on the season and remain 2nd in the Atlantic Division, while New York fell to 42-24-7 (91 points) and 2nd in the Metropolitan Division.

The B’s are now 16-13-6 on the road this season and 8-0-0 in their last eight trips to New York against the Isles. In addition to dropping their last eight games on home ice to the Bruins, New York is 1-11-0 in their last 12 games and 2-11-1 in their last 14 games against Boston.

Boston is also 29-6-5 when scoring first this season and 26-1-3 when leading after two periods.

Bruce Cassidy provided several updates on his long list of injuries before Tuesday night’s action, revealing that Kevan Miller (upper body) would not travel with the team, while Marcus Johansson (lung contusion) and Matt Grzelcyk (upper body) would rejoin the lineup sometime on the road trip.

Torey Krug (concussion) was feeling better and will travel with the team, but has not been cleared to return to action.

David Pastrnak, in the meantime, was back in the lineup since having surgery on a tendon in his left thumb and was placed in his usual spot on the first line right wing with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron.

As a result of Pastrnak’s return, Danton Heinen slid down to the third line left wing alongside Kuraly at center and Chris Wagner on the right side.

Jake DeBrusk, David Krejci and Charlie Coyle remained a trio on the second line and Joakim Nordstrom, Noel Acciari and David Backes were unchanged.

On defense, Cassidy left belated birthday boy (who turned 42-years-old on Monday), Zdeno Chara, with Charlie McAvoy on the first defensive pair, while moving Connor Clifton up to the left side of Brandon Carlo on the second blue line pair.

John Moore suited up alongside Steven Kampfer to round out the defense.

Kuraly (7) kickstarted the action early on the road with his first goal in 23 games as he sent the puck past Lehner to give the Bruins a, 1-0, lead at 1:12 of the first period.

McAvoy (19) had the only assist on Kuraly’s first goal since Jan. 17th.

Boston came out of the gates roaring and dominated the pace of play, outshooting New York, 14-2, after 20 minutes of action.

The Islanders led in blocked shots (9-5), giveaways (6-3) and face-off win percentage (53-47) heading into the first intermission, while the Bruins led in takeaways (5-1) and hits (11-10).

Both teams had yet to see any time on the skater advantage entering the second period.

Four seconds into the middle frame, Chara squared off with Matt Martin and the two veteran NHLers exchanged fisticuffs. The 42-year-old captain of the B’s became the first player 42 or older to earn a fighting major since Mark Recchi (42 years, 285 days old) did so on Nov. 13, 2010 with the Bruins.

Chara’s birthday was on Monday.

After Cal Clutterbuck turned the puck over in his own defensive zone, Acciari (4) scooped up the rubber biscuit and sent it past Lehner’s left pad to give Boston a two-goal lead at 2:52 of the second period.

Acciari’s goal was unassisted and made it, 2-0, Bruins.

Almost midway through the middle frame, Pastrnak was penalized for high-sticking Adam Pelech— in Pelech’s 200th career NHL game– at 7:27.

The Islanders did not convert on the ensuing power play and recorded one shot on goal.

Late in the period, Kuraly (8) delivered again with his second goal of the game off a wraparound pass from Heinen.

The Bruins led, 3-0, at 16:17 of the second period and Heinen (21) had the only assist on the goal.

A little over a minute later, Pelech hooked Chara and received a minor infraction at 17:46. Boston did not score on the resulting power play opportunity.

Through 40 minutes of play, the Bruins led, 3-0, on the scoreboard and, 24-8, in shots on goal. Boston also held the advantage in takeaways (8-4) and face-off win% (53-48), while New York led in blocked shots (16-6), giveaways (17-7) and hits (20-18).

Both clubs were 0/1 on the power play entering the third period.

Early in the final frame of regulation, Bergeron (28) received a pass from Nordstrom and sniped a shot into the twine to make it, 4-0, Boston.

Nordstrom (4) and Moore (8) tallied the assists on Bergeron’s goal at 6:32 of the third period.

Less than a couple minutes later, DeBrusk was guilty of hooking Islanders forward, Anthony Beauvillier, and cut a rut to the penalty box at 8:11.

Upon leaving the box, DeBrusk capitalized on a flubbed play back to the point for New York and had a quick breakaway entering the attacking zone for Boston.

DeBrusk (23) scored top shelf on Lehner’s glove side to give the B’s a five-goal lead, 5-0, at 10:20 of the third period on an unassisted effort.

There were no more goals or penalties thereafter as the Bruins downed the Islanders, 5-0, at the final horn.

Boston finished the night leading in shots on goal, 39-13, as well as face-off win% (53-47). New York wrapped up the blowout loss with the advantage in blocked shots (20-9), giveaways (22-12) and hits (23-20).

The Islanders went 0/2 on the power play on Tuesday, while the Bruins finished 0/1 on the skater advantage.

The Bruins swing through New Jersey on Thursday, Florida on Saturday and Tampa next Monday before returning home to face the New York Rangers on March 27th. Boston hosts the Florida Panthers on March 30th before traveling to Detroit on the 31st to close out the month.

In their head-to-head season series, Cassidy’s crew swept Barry Trotz and his Islanders bunch, 3-0-0, in the regular season.

DTFR Podcast #129- Top Line Stars

Nick and Connor talk Alex Tuch’s extension with the Vegas Golden Knights, superstars Auston Matthews, Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid, as well as Charlie McAvoy extension options, the New York Rangers, Boston’s first line vs. Colorado’s top line and the week’s biggest matchup.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

Realistic Predictions for the 2016-2017 Season

By: Nick Lanciani

Anaheim Ducks

Unknown-1The Anaheim Ducks added Jared Boll in the offseason to help bolster Team USA’s heart and grit rating at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. Oh wait. Anaheim also brought back Randy Carlyle as head coach.

So basically it’ll be Throwback Thursday everyday this season for the Ducks, since it’ll be ten years since their 2007 Stanley Cup championship with Carlyle and crew. Why not bring back the maroon and jade uniforms while we’re at it?


Arizona Coyotes

Unknown-3Youth is not just prevalent on the Arizona Coyotes roster this season, but in their front office as well, as 27-year-old, John Chayka, was hired as the youngest GM in NHL history.

Max Domi and Anthony Duclair do all they can to convince Shane Doan to become the next Jaromir Jagr and maybe then we can start talking about a potential Cup run for the Coyotes. A plethora of defensemen fight for six roster spots and are narrowed down throughout the season, Hunger Games style.

Boston Bruins

Unknown-7Big and Bad are Backes. Wait, that’s not it. The Boston Bruins added David Backes, Riley Nash and Dominic Moore to their group of forwards this offseason all while seeming to forget that they still need another top-4 defenseman (let alone an entire defense).

Like most years of Boston sports (okay, with the exception of the last fifteen years), the Bruins will probably narrowly miss the playoffs again, much to the dismay of their hardcore fan base that still goes to every game like it’s their job. Or am I confusing them with the guys on the roster? At least 63 + 37 = 100.

Buffalo Sabres

Unknown-2So the Buffalo Sabres look to do things this year. That’s a thing, I’m pretty sure. Major loss? Chad Johnson left the team via free agency and went to Calgary. Major gains?

They brought in Kyle Okposo and everything else remained pretty much the same, so they should probably be on the outside looking in again, unless they become the new Ottawa Senators (forged by youth and a backup goalie that takes over from February through their early first round playoff exit in April).

All kidding aside, the Sabres remain hopeful. Meanwhile, Rasmus Ristolainen finally got paid (at a discount, none the less— Flo from Progressive would be happy).

Calgary Flames

Unknown-4What did the Calgary Flames do this offseason? They got some goaltending. Brian Elliott was acquired via a trade with St. Louis and Chad Johnson came over from Buffalo in free agency, so that’s two new goalies for a total of about half as many goalies that the Philadelphia Flyers have played in the last twenty years (though Calgary is starting to catch up).

Johnny Gaudreau is still unsigned, so that could be problematic, since he’s like, Calgary’s entire offense. At least, that’s what the fake Kanye West account told me— just kidding, he finally signed the other day. Given the state of the Western Conference, it’s safe to say they won’t be flaming their competition in the standings.

Carolina Hurricanes

Carolina Hurricanes LogoBiggest additions: Lee Stempniak, Viktor Stalberg and Teuvo Teravainen (so basically just Teravainen, if you’re playing along with the rebuild at home). Matt Tennyson was also brought in on the blue line via free agency from San Jose, so there’s that.

Hurricanes fans, take solace in the fact that the Columbus Blue Jackets exist in your division, because at least Carolina won’t finish last with an improved New Jersey Devils team (minus their defense) looking to jump ahead of the Hurricanes in the standings.

Chicago Blackhawks

Unknown-22013, 2015— shoot, this year’s Stanley Cup Final is in an odd numbered year, isn’t it? Well, forget all of the season predictions, congrats to the Chicago Blackhawks. They’ll probably just insert some prospect alongside Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Artemi Panarin, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook or someone and be fine.

I mean, that’s been the formula since 2010 anyway. Win the Cup, trade a bunch of people because of the salary cap over the next offseason or two, win the Cup again and do it all over again. The only problem is, the Blackhawks have got the toughest division, so they’ll probably still make the playoffs, at least.

Colorado Avalanche

Unknown-1The Colorado Avalanche added two Bourques to their team (Gabriel Bourque and Rene Bourque) so they’re obviously hoping to double their efforts of their 2001 Stanley Cup championship with legendary defenseman Ray Bourque. What’s that? They’re not related? Nice try Joe Sakic.

While the Av’s were perfect in the preseason, sadly none of it counted and they’ll start 0-0-0 just like everybody else. New head coach, Jared Bednar, won’t be dismantling any stanchions this year, so that’s good news, glass between the benches at Pepsi Center.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Columbus Blue Jackets LogoZach Werenski made the team, so now they’ll have a defense. Oh, sorry, didn’t you there Ryan Murray, Seth Jones and Jack Johnson. But all kidding aside, these guys just need to stay healthy— I’m looking at you Sergei Bobrovsky.

Their group of forwards kind of have it going on. But sadly, this isn’t the year for the Columbus Blue Jackets, unlike the rest of the teams in Ohio it seems. Also, how it is possible for Werenski, a player from Michigan University, to not get run out of Ohio? I’ll wait.

Dallas Stars

Unknown-2The Dallas Stars have the same goaltending tandem of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi, the same core group of forwards primarily in Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn and an improved defense with the loss of Kris Russell.

Somehow every year, this band of veterans impresses the hockey world by combatting speed and skill with heart and grit (minus some of the grit). But just like last year, they probably still won’t figure it out in the playoffs between their two goaltenders and fail miserably (in the eyes of Stars fans).

Detroit Red Wings

UnknownThe Detroit Red Wings added Steve Ott (grit), Thomas Vanek (heart) and Frans Nielsen (actually, kind of good), this offseason to their group of forwards that doesn’t include Pavel Datsyuk for the first time in like, forever.

Datsyuk was traded to Arizona at the draft after he announced his retirement from the NHL to go play in the KHL back home before ultimately wrapping up his professional hockey career. And with that, so ends the Red Wings playoff appearance streak this season. But at least Petr Mrazek will be their number one goalie, right?

Edmonton Oilers

Unknown-5Rogers Place looks pretty cool. Milan Lucic Bruinsinizes the team. Peter Chiarelli traded Taylor Hall to the New Jersey Devils for Adam Larsson. And that is all. Just kidding, Chiarelli also traded Nail Yakupov to the St. Louis Blues for practically nothing (so just like the Hall trade).

Connor McDavid was named captain and the team got worse. Kris Russell was added to the defense and Eric Gryba was not re-signed, then PTO’ed, then signed to a new deal with Edmonton, then probably placed on waivers. Sounds like things are business as usual for the Oilers.

Florida Panthers

Florida_Panthers_logo_2016James Reimer signed as the backup goaltender to Roberto Luongo for the Florida Panthers this offseason, so if you’re a fan of the 2013 Toronto Maple Leafs or 2011 Vancouver Canucks, maybe Florida is your team (until games actually matter in the playoffs).

Jason Demers and Keith Yandle were two major additions to the Panthers blue line, while they managed to finagle Jared McCann out of Vancouver in exchange for Erik Gudbranson. So basically, the Panthers are poised to dominate the Atlantic Division once again in the regular season. Can I get a Jaromir Jagr for the Hart Trophy to with it?

Los Angeles Kings

Unknown-3The Los Angeles Kings most recently added Devin Setoguchi to their batch of forwards, so that summarizes everything about their offseason. Props to Setoguchi for making a comeback in the NHL. Shouts to the Kings for having a cool arena by the way. I stopped by there in August.

Drew Doughty, Jonathan Quick and Anze Kopitar all won awards last season, so that should have some indication of how they’ll do this season. They’ll probably make the Western Conference Final and have to play the Chicago Blackhawks again, won’t they?

Minnesota Wild

Unknown-2The Minnesota Wild added Eric Staal to their roster this offseason and most recently (and more important than Staal), Teemu Pulkkinen.

Chris Stewart returned to the Wild organization after a trip around the league (or so it seemed) and everything else pretty much remained the same.

So if you’re a Minnesota fan, first, good luck surviving the winter (as usual). Second, nobody knows how the Vikings are doing it, but they’re doing it. And third, the Wild aren’t going to be that great this season, so pick one of the first two options to bandwagon, if you would please.

Montreal Canadiens

Unknown-1The Montreal Canadiens traded P.K. Subban. That is all.

But seriously, how could you, Montreal? Other than that, Alexander Radulov, Andrew Shaw and Shea Weber are all part of the team now, while Carey Price will miss the first game with the flu and Mike Condon got claimed off waivers by Pittsburgh. Looks like the team’s all yours, Al Montoya.

Nashville Predators

UnknownThe Nashville Predators acquired P.K. Subban this offseason. What were the Montreal Canadiens thinking?

The Preds are letting their forwards develop and made their defense significantly better by getting rid of Shea Weber for Subban. Now if only Pekka Rinne would return to vintage Pekka Rinne form, then this could the year for Nashville. Then again, they’re in the same division as Chicago in an odd numbered playoff year, so…

New Jersey Devils

New Jersey Devils LogoThe New Jersey Devils restructured their forwards with the additions of Taylor Hall, Beau Bennett, Vernon Fiddler and P.A. Parenteau, but they still lack a defense (mostly). Brandon Gormley, Ben Lovejoy and Kyle Quincey are notable (somewhat) additions to the blue line in the Garden State.

Andy Greene remains one of the strangest trivia questions when someone asks you “who is the current captain of the Devils?” And Cory Schneider is still a highly underrated goaltender that somehow manages to survive without a team in front of him. But at least New Jersey is gearing up for the underdog of the year status.

New York Islanders

New York Islanders LogoThe New York Islanders added a lot of veteran presence to their noticeably Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum-less organization (yes, I took a shot at Barclays Center, there). Jason Chimera, Andrew Ladd and Dennis Seidenberg are now members of the Islanders and well, at least Seidenberg’s contract is only for a year.

As long as Jaroslav Halak plays like he did at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey (minus the final loss to Canada) and stays healthy, John Tavares and crew could lead this team further in the playoffs than in recent memory. Time may be winding down on their Cup contention clock, since Tavares is looking for an extension and well, everyone else on their roster is getting older.

New York Rangers

New York Rangers LogoIf winning the Jimmy Vesey sweepstakes counts for anything than the New York Rangers are winners. But they probably won’t be winners of much this season. Granted, they could make a playoff run (or miss it altogether), the same tune rings true, Henrik Lundqvist cannot be a team on his own.

Josh Jooris and Mika Zibanejad are big name additions to the offense. Okay, so they’re just names added to the roster. Nick Holden is new to the Blueshirts blue line and well, they’re still an aging defense. Best of luck to the youth in the New York, like Vesey, Jesper Fast, Oscar Lindberg, Kevin Hayes and others for getting to play more than one position this year on the same shift.

Ottawa Senators

Unknown-6Chris Kelly is back with the Ottawa Senators this season after playing 11 games last year with the Boston Bruins and recovering from a broken femur. Derick Brassard was acquired from the Rangers in exchange for Mika Zibanejad and Bobby Ryan switched his number from 6 to 9 (get your mind out of the gutter, Internet).

Otherwise, the Senators remain virtually the same. On the outside looking in, but probably raising a few eyebrows for their late season surge. They’re still waiting on their youth, which is at least working better than it is for their counterparts in Ontario, the Toronto Maple Leafs (who, although contrary to popular belief, might actually be better this year).

Philadelphia Flyers

Philadelphia Flyers LogoThe Philadelphia Flyers already appear to be in midseason form, what with Radko Gudas‘s six-game suspension and their apparent preference for Steve Mason as their number one goalie, as usual.

Boyd Gordon and Dale Weise are additions (though, can you really call them that?) and Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov made the team from training camp (and the last couple of years of drafting), so the Flyers appear to be a middle of the pack team again this year.

Additionally, they’ll face off with the Pittsburgh Penguins in this season’s Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game at Heinz Field on February 25, 2017 as part of the league’s 50th season celebration of the 1967 expansion. So yeah, that’s all I got for Philadelphia.

Pittsburgh Penguins

pittsburgh_penguins_logoThe Pittsburgh Penguins have virtually the same team from Game 6 of the 2016 Stanley Cup Final and look to defend their championship title without Sidney Crosby for at least game one of an 82 game regular season schedule.

New goaltender, Mike Condon, could make things interesting when comes time to decide between Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray before the 2017 expansion draft, since he could likely become Murray’s backup.

San Jose Sharks

UnknownJust like the Penguins, the San Jose Sharks roster remains virtually untouched since their loss in Game 6 of the 2016 Stanley Cup Final, which kind of makes you wonder, did anyone remember that there was an offseason?

Matt Tennyson jettisoned to Carolina (I was dying to juxtaposition those words), where he was now sent down to the Charlotte Checkers. Roman Polak went back to Toronto and honestly, that was probably for the better for San Jose. Aaron Dell is the new backup to Martin Jones and would someone just let Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau win a Cup this year? I mean, if Phil Kessel can, then surely those guys can too.

St. Louis Blues

UnknownThe St. Louis Blues will be consciously uncoupling with Ken Hitchcock at the end of the season in his farewell to coaching tour. Mike Yeo has already been named as his replacement and has begun barking out orders at practice, similar to his meltdown in Minnesota (though I have not confirmed that).

They lost David Backes to free agency, because the salary cap exists and good luck to the front office in St. Louis to try figure that one out in the next few years. Meanwhile they added Nail Yakupov for virtually nothing, though in their defense, they already had their own Yakupov in Magnus Paajarvi on their roster, so maybe this time they can make it work.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Unknown-3Nikita Kucherov and the Tampa Bay Lightning finally agreed to a three year bridge deal extension, so Lightning fans rejoice, your fountain of youth is still intact for now. Steven Stamkos stuck around for eight more years and GM Steve Yzerman can now take the next six months off until the playoffs when he has to start worrying about how far his team will go and what to do with Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy.

The Bolts look like geniuses here, for having developed their players well over the last few seasons and will more than likely dominant the Atlantic Division with their in-state rivals, the Florida Panthers. Sadly, Tampa probably won’t win the Cup because the Blackhawks exist and that whole 2013, 2015, 20??? pattern exists.

Toronto Maple Leafs

UnknownAuston Matthews.

(Colby told me to just write that. I think it works).

 

 

 

 

Vancouver Canucks

UnknownLoui Eriksson joined fellow Swedes, Daniel and Henrik Sedin in Vancouver this offseason. So in other news, Team Sweden, feel free to send the Canucks some of your jerseys, because after looking at the rest of the roster, I’m sure they don’t want to be associated with whatever Vancouver’s front office is doing.

Vancouver added Erik Gudbranson. At the cost of Jared McCann to the Florida Panthers. Actually, from the sound of it, it wasn’t a cost at all. The Canucks hate youths. Millennials ruin everything. Best of luck to you Ryan Miller and Jacob Markstrom.

Washington Capitals

Washington Capitals LogoThe Washington Capitals acquired Lars Eller this offseason, so that’s good, but they also signed Brett Connolly via free agency (so that’s bad). But let’s be honest, the Capitals will probably make the former 6th overall pick better than he’s ever been. Or at least playing on a line with Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov or Nicklas Backstrom will probably help with that.

So basically, the outlook for Washington is this: they’re a good team, they’ll do well, Braden Holtby is elite and they’ll win a lot. Maybe a Cup run is in their future.

Winnipeg Jets

Unknown-4Patrik Laine was selected 2nd overall at this year’s draft by the Winnipeg Jets, Blake Wheeler was named captain and Winnipeg finally moved on from Ondrej Pavelec (by sending him to Manitoba).

What’s that? Jacob Trouba is still a RFA? He wants to be TRADED? Forget all of the good storylines going for the Jets, the Trouba dilemma overshadows everything especially after Rasmus Ristolainen re-signed with the Sabres and began the end of the stare down between Ristolainen, Hampus Lindholm and Trouba as to which RFA defenseman would make a move first. So Kevin Cheveldayoff, who are you going to trade Trouba to? Asking for a friend. No, but seriously, he doesn’t want to miss playing time.

*Honorable mention* Las Vegas _____ Knights

Honestly, somebody just name the team already. I want to start working on coming up with a uniform in NHL 17’s Franchise Mode for you, Bill Foley.

President’s Trophy Winner

If you’re Canadian, this doesn’t matter. If you’re American, good luck. Oh, you meant the President’s Trophy, as in “the team with the best record at the end of the regular season in the NHL”? Well, probably can’t go wrong with the Washington Capitals for that one, unlike their other Washington counterparts that have marred records.

1st Place in the Atlantic Division at season’s end– Florida Panthers or Tampa Bay Lightning, basically the entire state of Florida

One of the teams in Florida will win the Atlantic Division, that’s really all I know.

1st Place in the Metropolitan Division at season’s end– Pittsburgh Penguins

It’s no cakewalk, but Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury live up to that “two is better than one” mantra (sorry Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss).

1st Place in the Central Division at season’s end– Nashville Predators

It doesn’t really matter who clinches the Central Division this season because they’re still going to lose in the 2nd or 3rd round of the playoffs.

1st Place in the Pacific Division at season’s end– Los Angeles Kings

Winning the division isn’t everything. Just ask the 2015-2016 Anaheim Ducks and the late 2000s/early 2010s San Jose Sharks. Unfortunately what this means for Los Angeles is that they’ll be out in seven games in the first round.